Tuesday, October 27, 2009

And Now, the Non-News: SEX IN THE WORKPLACE

I may be in the severe minority here, but before last week I had never heard of Steve Phillips. I don’t watch ESPN’s programming, where Phillips was a commentator, and I know very little about the New York Mets, the team Philips used to manage. But suddenly, Phillips was a household word because he pulled a Letterman with a young production assistant at the network. By early this week, both he and the young woman were unemployed.

It seems the woman, Brooke Hundley, 22,(left) went all Glenn Close on Phillips’ wife in August, and then cyber-stalked Phillips’ teenage son via Facebook. All very juicy, no? Granted, the whole thing is sort of tawdry, but in the end, do you care? I do not. Here is what I do care about: When two consenting adults decide to get naked together, privately, it seems to me the public at large has nothing to do with it. Somehow, a letter from Hundley to Marni Phillips made its way to the Internet last week, complete with Hundley’s description of birthmarks near Phillips’ penis. Again, do we care? We do not. What I care about is privacy.

Phillips,(below, right) as it turns out, is no saint. When he managed the Mets he was sued by a staffer for sexual harassment. Then he was fired. He has a habit of getting fired from some of the best gigs in the world of professional sports. The issue that stands out there is harassment. If there is a clear case of sexual harassment, then there is something newsworthy. In the case of Brooke Hundley, she has yet to utter the word harassment. That being the case, why has this incident been splashed all over countless blogs, news and information sites and newspapers? Further, how exactly will ESPN justify firing Phillips, whose job performance was by all reports more than satisfactory?

I worked in the hotel business for 16 years, and I can tell you without hesitation that people who work together like to have sex together. You may not like hearing that, but it is what it is. I remember the hotel general manager and sales director in Omaha who used to have sex in a suite on Friday nights. Everybody knew it. Nobody cared much. Then there was the human resources director and executive chef in a New Orleans hotel where I worked – both married to other people at the time, but currently married to each other after she evidently couldn’t resist the smell of his – er, uh – marinara sauce.

Look, men and women have all kinds of sex in and around the workplace. Anyone who doubts this is deluding himself or herself. We are left with this dilemma: Is this a moral issue or a legal issue? If it is a moral issue, everyone really needs to settle it for themselves, in their own minds. If it is a legal issue, then employers have a responsibility to take action. In this case, Steve Phillips is what we might call an aging horndog, and Brooke Hundley, by no fault of her own, is a rather unattractive young woman who had a brief fling with a nice looking older man who happened to be married. The results are all unfortunate. Hundley is hurt and angry; Marni Phillips filed for divorce in September; Steve Phillips has checked himself into some sort of treatment facility – for what, we do not know. But as for ESPN, one is left to wonder: When this all ends up in court – and trust me, it will – on what grounds will the network base its case for firing Hundley and Phillips? And if they are going to fire Hundley and Phillips and somehow get away with it, how many millions of jobs are in jeopardy in this sluggish economy, simply because people who work together have sex?

At a time when there are huge issues facing our country, a 50-something ex-jock who still thinks he’s a 20-something frat boy, who does the deed with a 20-something starry-eyed girl is not news. It is non-news. Let’s focus on the big stuff: Jobs, health care, global warming, and, well…of course, what will become of Don Draper (left) on Mad Men now that his secret has been revealed? Sunday can’t come soon enough for me. How about you?

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